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White House Says It Doesn’t Have ‘Precise Number’ of Americans in Afghanistan

FILE PHOTO: A U.S. Marine assigned to 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit search luggage during an evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport, Afghanistan, August 18, 2021. Picture taken August 18, 2021. U.S. Marine Corps/Sgt. Isaiah Campbell/Handout via REUTERS
• August 20, 2021 10:52 am

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WASHINGTON (Reuters)—The U.S. government does not know exactly how many Americans are currently in Afghanistan, the White House communications director said on Friday, even as it races to evacuate thousands of people from the chaotic Kabul airport.

"We don't have a precise number and there's a reason for that," Communications Director Kate Bedingfield told CNN, adding that is partly because the current count "includes people who may have left the country, who may have left over the course of the last six months."

"What we're doing is working to identify how many Americans are there," Bedingfield said.

President Joe Biden has said he would extend the Aug. 31 deadline for troops to leave Afghanistan, which the United States invaded two decades ago, to ensure all Americans get out, making it crucial to know how many remain in the country.

Estimates of remaining Americans range widely. According to the Washington Post, national security officials told a bipartisan group of Senate staffers on Tuesday that about 10,000 to 15,000 U.S. citizens are in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. Pentagon Spokesman John Kirby said on Tuesday that between 5,000 and 10,000 U.S. citizens were believed to be in the Kabul area.

The count will fluctuate daily as thousands of people are airlifted from Kabul. The U.S. goal is to remove 5,000 to 9,000 people per day.

The United States has evacuated approximately 14,000 people since the end of July. More than half of those, 9,000, have been removed since Aug. 14, according to a White House official.

The official said that out of the 3,000 people evacuated by the United States on Thursday, 350 were Americans.

On Tuesday the U.S. military evacuated about 1,100 Americans, permanent residents of the United States, and their families.

"As of a few weeks ago we had already begun reaching out to all American citizens who were in Afghanistan, via email, via text, via messaging app to hear from them, and to understand their plans and work with them to get them out if they want to get out," Bedingfield said. "And so that is a massive logistical operation."

(Reporting by Lisa Lambert; Editing by Daniel Wallis)